BDP was a good party until 2018, says Samson Moyo Guma

Samson Moyo Guma will face off with Moiseraele Goya for the position of party President at the Botswana Patriotic Front’s (BPF) elective congress next month. In this interview with The Midweek Sun's Political Reporter EDWARD BULE, Guma enthusiastically parries criticism that his is a party built on the foundation of tribal affiliation.

MSUN: The continued formation of new parties, such as the BPF, has been blamed for vote splitting by the opposition hence the close to six-decade rule by the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). What is your take on that?

SG: It would be methodologically flawed for anyone to conclude that the BDP ruled for decades because opposition parties have been splitting votes. It cannot be attributed to just vote splitting. There were many years when the BDP ran the country and managed the economy well. This part of our history we cannot wish away as it has influenced the continued election of the BDP.

However, since 2018, there has been a significant decline in the governance credentials of the BDP. Livelihoods were downgraded. Given this, we need the different political parties to work together in order to achieve regime change soonest. Working together does not mean being one party and this is because much as we have these different parties it is because we have different systems and beliefs that still need accommodating through having different parties.

These parties can work together and it’s a good thing that we have different parties because if we didn’t have the different parties you would find that a person who is in the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) probably would never have wanted to be in the BPF.

By the same token, someone in the BNF probably would never have wanted to be in the BPF and vice versa. So, if you restrict voter choice by restricting the plurality of political parties in the country a lot of these voters may even get disillusioned and indifferent. The formation of the BPF was necessary because anyone who has followed its history would know that the BPF provides an important bridge, particularly for people who are coming from the BDP into the opposition.

It is a form of a soft landing platform for people who may have been BDP hardliners. For these, the traditional opposition parties may have been bridges too far from the founders of the BPF. Many Batswana in the countryside, identify quite well with the BPF because they previously identified with the BDP. So, we must appreciate the BPF for this role.

MSUN: What is your comment on the suggestion that the BPF is a tribal party? The former president, Dr. Ian Khama, has been accused of supporting your competitor at your expense. Your comment?

SG: The BPF has a constitution that founded the party. The BPF is not formed for any particular tribe. It is a mistake to think that just because the party has built up a lot of support in the Central District, a Bangwato stronghold, it belongs to that tribe. In fact, if you look into the growth patterns of the BPF, you will discover that it is spreading out to nearly all parts of the country and this is a normal trajectory in the growth of a party.

All parties grow from somewhere. I am not aware whether the former president supports my competitor, Moiseraele Goya. I have never heard the Patron saying he supports Goya. The only thing that I have heard is a radio interview in which Goya proclaimed that he is the one who is preferred and wanted by the Patron. I took that as electioneering because when people go for elections they say and do anything for the sake of winning so I categorise Goya’s claims as mere electioneering.

I do not see the Patron coming out and declaring support for one of us at the expense of the other because that would alienate the vast majority of people from across the country and from across the different ethnic groups. I don’t like this thing where, whenever there is a contest, tribal affiliation becomes an issue. I think you in the media must also be careful not to stoke tribal sentiments even where it does not exist.

MSUN: Dr. Khama’s influence in the BPF has been said to be more than that of the party president. Are you going to be independent of him should you become the party president?

SG: I don’t think it is a case of needing to be independent of him. This thing of being independent of Khama has been said as though there is something wrong with him, which calls for people to distance themselves from him. Khama is a leader in the party. He is an elder statesman. His experience and advice I value greatly and will certainly keep seeking it going forward.

MSUN: Leadership contests have led to divisions at best and splits at worst in many if not most political parties. How will you ensure that the party remains united after the congress? Will you support the winner?

SG: This is not unique to the BPF and let us not make the mistake of painting the picture of a possible crisis. Whenever there is an election coming, people will lobby others and will have temporary platforms from which they are trying to get into positions of leadership.

Once we are done with the election, everyone knows that we must respect the will of the majority and instead, work together against the BDP, which is our common enemy. We have been in politics for quite a while and as BPF, we are not going to collapse just because the voters have chosen one candidate at the expense of the other. We will remain united as Patriots and that is what works in the interests of our people.

MSUN: How is the campaign? Has it been a squeaky clean affair thus far?

SG: It would be unrealistic to expect that a campaign will be squeaky clean. Well, on my end I have not on a single occasion spoken about my competitors. I have spoken about what I think we need to do in order to help our party grow and take over power. I have spoken about the need for us to be united as an organisation and the need to work together with other opposition parties.

I have spoken about the need for us to grow the institution that is the BPF, to further institutionalise it: grow the processes, procedures, and programmes of the party; of conflict resolution and conflict prevention mechanisms. I have spoken about the need for us to develop our policies such that our identity becomes clear in terms of what we stand for. I have not been talking about personalities.

Of course, some of our party members have chosen a campaign mode where you speak about others as a way of trying to gain favour. My experience from the BDP and my experience in the BPF have taught me that internal political contests are like friendly matches; you do not go in there with too much emotion and trying to destroy the other person.